Over the course of the past few weeks, The 6th Sens run a series of items examining a list of prospective general manager candidates to fill the vacant GM position here in Ottawa once Bryan Murray's tenure ends. Names like Paul Fenton, Craig Billington and Pierre McGuire have been strewn about and thanks to the marvelous social tool known as Twitter, I was flattered when one of my favorite bloggers, The Tao of Stieb, offered to write a piece on why Jarmo Kekalainen is the right man for the job.
For those who are unfamiliar with Tao's work, he lives in Ottawa and is the author of the popular Toronto Blue Jays blog of the same name. If you're a Jays fan, no, scratch that - if you're a baseball fan, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you did not parouse his site. On behalf of everyone at The 6th Sens, thank you Tao for your Jarmo! contribution and readers, if you haven't already, please check out The Tao of Stieb and follow the Tao on Twitter (@TaoofStieb).
Now, without further ado, here is his guest post...
Bring back Jarmo!
Let’s clear this up from the get-go. We really want to make an undisputable argument that the only candidate for the Senators’ presumably-soon-to-be-vacant GM position is Jarmo Kekalainen. But, to be fair, we should also make clear that our ability to actually assess his track record is dubious at best.
A one-time Senator (28 games and one goal in 1993-94), Kekalainen went on to serve as a European scout for the team following his career, ascending the ranks quickly to head scout and eventually Director of Player Personnel to a rapid succession of GMs in the early 2000’s.
It was in his time with the Sens that some unconventional picks turned into stars or, at the very least, significant contributors. Marty Havlat’s selection, for instance, stunned the local boys at what was then Ottawa Sports Radio, who clearly had no info sheet on the player and no possible angle to analyze the pick. As it turned out, only two players from that draft (2nd overall Daniel Sedin and 210th overall Henrik Zetterberg) have gone on to score more goals over the past decade then Havlat.
He’s also been credited with pushing for a fifth round selection of Magnus Arvedsson (a +102 over his six seasons in Ottawa), Andreas Dackell (a sixth rounder who was a big part of those first contenders), Chris Kelly (smart hockey from a third rounder!), Karel Rachunek (a flyer in the ninth round who played a ton of minutes for good teams), and Anton Volchenckov.
(It’s an odd addendum, but worth noting that Kekalainen’s reputation - such as it is - around Ottawa was built from the effusive praise heaped upon him by putative GM candidate Pierre McGuire in his daily call in to the morning yahoos at the Team 1200. In and amongst the heeing and hawing and braying of the Three Guys, McGuire would emphasize the importance of Kekalainen’s contribution to the franchise, even as the team moved from Pierre Gauthier to Rick Dudley to Marshall Johnston to John Muckler in rapid succession.)
Since leaving the Senators for a more plush job (Assistant GM and Head of Amateur Scouting) with the Blues, Kekalainen has continued to burnish his reputation with astute picks such as David Backes, T.J. Oshie and David Perron, Patrik Berglund and Lars Eller. By putting clear-eyed talent assessment ahead of axiomatic nonsense, Jarmo! has made the most of his team’s later picks, and shown a willingness to look beyond the orthodoxy of the hockeyocracy.
As we noted off the top, we may have created Kekalainen as some sort of avatar for our deep-seeded belief in the need for a new management model for the Sens in particular, and hockey in general. (And as if to prove our point, we mentioned our Jarmo Love to a friend recently, who shot it down with an Alpo Suhonen witticism. As though there can never be another European in any position of authority because one guy failed. If geography were truly destiny, wouldn’t there be more of a clampdown on all of the Kingston boys running hockey teams hither and yon?)
Jarmo – the Jarmo we hold in our mind’s eye - is definitely not local, and for us, that might be the most salient point in his favour. He wouldn’t find himself pulled into heartwarming signings of local boys, because as an evaluator of tangible on-ice talent and performance, he could care less if someone’s nana was going to be able to speak to Gord Wilson, or put a lump in Roy McGregor’s throat.
Nor would he feel any great compulsion to give overly generous contract renewals to marginal players with an excellent attendance record at charity events.
Jarmo Kekalainen has come to represent something different to us. And different, in this case, would seem to be good. Because the last goddamned thing we need around here is another Dougie or Gordie effing our team up with aphoristic epigrams about what hockey is and how “you gotta” this and “you can’t ever” that.
Bring on the change. Bring us the Finn. Bring back Jarmo!
One thing to keep in mind: In the "new NHL" (which is the old NHL by now, but never mind), trades and free agent signings are going to be less important when it comes to building teams than the draft.
The cap makes trades more difficult and less meaningful, and free agent acquistions will be less impactful given the dearth of top-drawer players available.
If the Sens are going to start moving in the right direction, they are going to have to stockpile picks and use them effectively.
(Also, Jarmo!'s name is spelled wrong in the title. You have Jarko. Which makes me think you're undermining my point here.)
I like the idea in principle, but how do we know he won't turn into Murray part two (Good drafter, horrible trader and free agent signer)?
@Lewy I think the important thing to note for an outside candidate who comes in is that the fans seem to embrace the idea of a rebuild. Any incoming GM could come in and say that fans need to be patient as the team continues to build upon the prospect base that the current mgmt team has left.
Judging by the weak free agent classes in the next two years, any fresh face could preach patience and growth from within. But once the next GM successor starts making quick fix moves (like Kuba, Kovalev, Gonchar), it starts the clock on their shelf-life here in Ottawa.